A new military incursion into Libya is part of a long-awaited dream by Turkish President Erdogan to return the Ottoman Caliphate, a global Islamic rule that subjugated Jews and Christians for six centuries.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Monday that Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries have begun arriving in Libya. Approximately 2,400 troops are already in Tripoli while another 1,700 are currently undergoing training in Turkey. Activists informed the SOHR that Turkey intends to send a total of 6,000 troops to Libya.
Turkey is backing the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) in its fight against the eastern-based Libyan National Army led by General Khalifa Haftar and backed by Russia. The GNA is supported by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The GNA also receives air support from the United Arab Emirates.
Until now, the role of the Turkish military has been limited to 35 military personnel involved solely in training and advisory roles. The new Syrian troops are mercenaries, hired from rebel groups opposing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Turkish government will pay each soldier a monthly stipend of $2,000, far more than the $50 they earned to fight back home in Syria. The Syrian troops are also fighting against the Kurds in Libya.
Turkish intervention is a manifestation of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aspiration to establish himself as the leader of a global Islamic nation. The SOHR reported that a commander of the Turkish-backed Syrian troops en route to Libya announced as their battle cry, “We will present our souls for the Ottoman Caliphate.”
The Ottoman Caliphate, known in the West as the Ottoman or Turkish Empire, was founded in the 13th Century and eventually controlled much of Southeast Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. This control lasted for several hundred years and only truly ended after WWI when the empire was partitioned by the Allied Powers and the 101st and final Caliph, Sultan Abdulmecid II, was deposed and expelled.
It should be noted that after his expulsion from Turkey, Sultan Abdulmecid II was in close correspondence with the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el-Husseini, the founder of Palestinian nationalism who later became a close friend of Adolf Hitler and an advocate of the Holocaust.
The Ottoman Empire was a Sunni Caliphate which exerted a hegemonic power of Muslim control over the non-Muslim populations, most notably a Christian/Catholic majority. In accordance with the Muslim dhimmi system, Christians were guaranteed limited freedoms, such as the right to worship. They were forbidden to carry weapons or ride on horseback, their houses could not overlook those of Muslims, in addition to various other legal limitations. Many Christians and Jews converted in order to secure full status in society.
Before his election, Turkish political analysts feared that candidate Erdogan’s rise to power was fueled by his aspirations and those of his supporters to return Turkey to its former glory at the head of the Muslim world. His term in office confirmed these fears. In the wake of a failed attempt at a coup by a faction in the army in 2016, Erdogan mobilized the military against the populace and jailed hundreds of dissidents.
But Erdogan’s Caliphate aspirations extend beyond the borders of Turkey and target Israel and, most specifically, Jerusalem. At a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul last year, Erdogan called on all of the 57 Muslim member nations to join together against Israel to avenge the deaths of Palestinians killed while charging the southern border with Gaza.
In 2015, Erdogan gave a speech commemorating 562 years since the Turks captured Constantinople (now known as Istanbul) from European Christians in which he called for the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem.
“Conquest is Mecca, conquest is Saladin, it’s to hoist the Islamic flag over Jerusalem again; conquest is the heritage of Mehmed II and conquest means forcing Turkey back on its feet,” Erdogan said in the speech in Istanbul.
Erdogan’s support of the Palestinians was returned in kind. In a Muslim gathering on the Temple Mount earlier this month commemorating the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 CE, Nidhal “Abu Ibrahim” Siam, a Palestinian preacher, addressed a crowd of approximately 7,000.
As reported by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Siam told the crowd that three prophecies would soon be fulfilled: a rightly-guided caliphate will be established, that Jerusalem will be liberated and established as its capital and that Islam “will throw its neighbors to the ground” thereby achieving world domination.
The gathering was organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international, pan-Islamist political organization dedicated to establishing a global caliphate. Founded in Jerusalem in 1953, the organization is banned in many countries.
Erdogan has also been suspected of aiding Hamas, allowing the terrorist organization to operate out of Turkey. The terrorist group is also reportedly in contact with the Turkish intelligence agency.
The key to the Turkish incursion into Libya and the hidden motivation is actually quite straightforward. Two months ago, Turkey signed a maritime borders deal that gave Turkey a claim to parts of the eastern Mediterranean. In addition to its strategic military importance, the eastern Mediterranean has huge natural gas deposits. Turkey’s entrance into the eastern Mediterranean puts it into close proximity with Israel and its offshore natural gas facilities.
Dr. Mordechai Kedar, a senior lecturer in the Department of Arabic at Bar-Ilan University, noted that Erdogan’s interest in Libya is really quite simple.
“The whole thing is about natural gas,” Dr. Kedar said. “The agreement between Turkey and Libya bypassed Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Egypt. They related to the entire Mediterranean and the enormous natural gas deposits as if they belonged only to Libya and Turkey.”
“This could bring Israel into direct conflict with Turkey but since Israel is supplying vital gas to Europe, this also brings Turkey into conflict with Europe.”
“In order to make sure that the Libyan government stays and Turkey’s gas interests in the Mediterranean stay secure, Turkey is ramping up the hostilities in Libya in favor of the GNA.”
Dr. Kedar emphasized that Turkey’s interest in Libyan hostilities is, in essence, but not exclusively, financially motivated.
“But religion is big business,” he added. “Establishing a caliphate is certainly a big part of Erdogan’s agenda but to do that, he needs money and power. Taking over the gas in the Mediterranean will give him that.”
This aspect of the Libyan conflict concerning natural gas in the Mediterranean is of grave concern to international leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Erdogan, French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, all of whom gathered in Berlin on Sunday to discuss the issue. Also in attendance were UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres along with senior representatives of the European Union, the African Union, and the Arab League.